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Domestic Workers “Bill of Rights”

A new law went into effect on April 1, 2015, which created a Bill of Rights for Massachusetts domestic workers. Its purpose is to extend basic work standards and labor protections to the approximately 67,000 nannies, housekeepers, care givers, and other home workers throughout Massachusetts. These workers would gain workplace rights that are guaranteed to other workers in Massachusetts. However, those rights codified in G.L.c. 149, §§190-191 do not apply to some that are generally considered to be domestic workers. Some of the new rights impose responsibilities and liabilities in private homes, and individuals, families and households that have never before been regulated as “employers” are subject to enforcement.

For purposes of the Bill of Rights, an employer is defined as: anyone who “suffers or permits” a domestic worker to work within a household. “Domestic worker” is defined as “an individual or employee who is paid by an employer to perform work of a domestic nature w/in a household including, but not limited to: (i) housekeeping; (ii) housecleaning; (iii) home management; (Iv) nanny services; (v) caretaking of individuals in the home, Including sick, convalescing and elderly individuals; (vi) laundering; (vii) cooking; (viii) home companion services; and (ix) other household services for members of households or their guests in private homes; provided, however, that ‘”domestic worker” shall not include a personal care attendant or an individual whose vocation is not child care or an individual whose services for the employer primarily consist of childcare on a casual, intermittent, and irregular basis for 1 or more family or household members.

A traditional “at-will” employee is free to quit, at any time, effective immediately, without notice. Similarly, a traditional “at-will” employee can be terminated at any time, effective immediately, without notice. However, under the Bill of Rights, employers will be faced with limitations in their ability to terminate the employment of a domestic worker. This means that, although a domestic worker can still be considered an at-will employee, they must be offered greater protection at termination than a traditional at-will employee.

For example, the new law states that: (i) involuntary discharge will require at least 14 days’ written notice or a week of severance pay. (ii) If you are terminating someone that resides in the household, you must give a 30 days written notice to vacate the premises, and the employer “may then only evict the domestic worker through summary process under the uniform summary process rules” (iii) If the worker resides in the household and the employer terminates employment without cause, the employer must provide written notice and at least 30 days of lodging, either on-site or in comparable off-site conditions, or severance pay equivalent to average earnings for two weeks.

Domestic workers are now also subject to special rules relating to work, rest, wages, and hours. Special rules include: (i) A worker working 40 or more hours a week will be entitled to a period of rest of at least 24 consecutive hours in each calendar week and at least 48 consecutive hours during each calendar month, and “where possible this time shall allow for religious worship.” (ii) A worker will be able to agree to work on a day of rest only if the agreement is in writing and compensation is at an overtime rate. (iii) When a worker not residing on the employer’s premises is on duty for less than 24 consecutive hours, pay will be required for all duty hours. (iv) When a worker is required to be on duty for a period of 24 consecutive hours or more, all meal periods, rest periods and sleeping periods will count as working time in the absence of a prior written agreement to the contrary. (v) The employer and the workers will, with certain limitations, be able to agree to exclude a regularly scheduled sleeping period of not more than eight hours from working time for each 24-hour period. (vi) The employer will be required to keep detailed record of wages and hours. (vii) The employer will be subject to special public and private enforcement of wage and hours laws, including provisions relating to injunctive relief, treble damages and awards of attorneys’ fees. (viii) The worker will be able to request a written evaluation of his or her work performance after three months of employment and annually thereafter, and will be able to inspect and dispute his or her written evaluations under the Massachusetts Personnel Record Act.

Additionally, a domestic worker will also be subject to specially tailored set of non-harassment laws that can be enforced by the Massachusetts Commission Against discrimination and civil courts.

This new domestic workers’ Bill of Rights creates a “superclass” of domestic workers that are given more rights and protections than other employees. If you are a domestic worker and you believe your employer is not in compliance with the new law, please contact us at (978) 228-2262.

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